President Cyril Ramaphosa swears in new parity cabinet. But can his mix of allies and enemies fast-track the delivery of urgent reforms?
President Cyril Ramaphosa who led the ruling African National Congress to victory in the May 8 General Elections announced in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday that he was cutting the number of cabinet ministers from 36 to 28, in a move he said would tackle the country's "bloated" government and improve efficiency.
Half the new ministers are women, with Naledi Pandor leading the cream of 14 stand out ladies. Pandor who has been in every government since 2004 occupying the education, science and technology and home affairs portfolios, takes over the high profile International Cooperation Ministry from Lindiwe Sisulu, appointed to take charge of Human Settlements.
The others are former Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille picked to head the Public Works and Infrastructure department and Barbara Creecy moved from Science and Technology to "go clean up the graft tainted" Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.
Thoko Didiza comes back as Minister of Agriculture a post she held for eight years under former President Thabo Mbeki. Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is the country's new Tourism boss, Ayanda Dlodlo, Minister of State Security, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in charge of Communications and Telecommunications, while Khumbudzo Ntshavheni takes over the Small Business Development portfolio.
Former African Union Executive President Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has held ministerial posts in different governments since 1994 returns as Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
"After levelling the playing field in the Cabinet, South Africans can ultimately seek to level the playing field in society, comments Eye Witness News. According to the newspaper, "the country can now focus its attention on tackling women's rights in areas such as pay equity, violence against women, health and family policies".
Winners and losers
One of the moves that tested Ramaphosa's negotiating skills was his ability to maintain Tito Mboweni as Finance Minister, against the wish of the labour union COSATU who are members of the ruling tripartite alliance.
Mail and Guardian reports that ANC treasurer Paul Mashatile and the party in Gauteng had tabled a motion backing Barbara Creecy's candidacy for the position, on the strength of her popularity with business and investments circles.
President Ramaphosa's decision to appoint the South African Communist Party chief Blade Nzimande to the newly "configured" Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology is also understood to be part of his plans to get everyone on board.
So too was his decision to merge the Mines and Energy departments under a single portfolio run by former ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe. But according to the online BizNews publication, the fusion appears to be "too much on Mantashe's plate".
Keeping allies close and enemies even closer
Also significant was Ramaphosa's move to appease the Jacob Zuma/Ace Magashule faction of the ANC, after dropping Bathabile Dlamini, the all-powerful President of ANC's Women's League as Development Minister.
"She has constitutional court case against her, which strengthened Mister Ramaphosa's hand" says Natasha Marrian, political editor of the Johannesburg-based Mail and Guardian.
No phones affair
Marrian who spoke to RFI in an exclusive telephone interview is the author of an investigative front-page M&G report detailing "unprecedented behind-the-scenes negotiations that saw names of potential cabinet ministers moved on and off the list".
"The negotiations started before the elections and continued until the very last moment. After the president briefed alliance partners and the ANC's top brass on the final list of ministers and their deputies late on Wednesday, the small group was kept inside the Union Buildings.
Their phones were taken away: nobody would put a spoke in the president's big reveal", wrote Natasha Marrian.
She claims that even if the President managed to keep his allies close and his enemies even closer, that is not likely to ease the tough battle he must wage to drive through reforms, in a country suffering from chronic unemployment, inequality, racial tension and crime.
Walking off from a low base
"We are sitting with a record high unemployment rate of 27 percent and an energy crisis at our door, with our power utility ESKOM on the brink of disaster in terms of its finances as well as its capacity", regrets Natasha Marrian.
"It's from a very low base that we're walking off", but I'm hopeful that this team hits the ground running, and really gets going on trying to revive the economy" warns the acclaimed South African journalist.